Gunmen abduct hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria

Incident in Zamfara state is latest in long series of mass child abductions across region

Hundreds more schoolgirls have been kidnapped from a school in northern Nigeria – the latest in years of mass child abductions across the region.

Gunmen took the students from Girls Science Secondary School in Zamfara state, northwestern Nigeria, early on Friday morning.

"There's information that they were moved to a neighbouring forest, and we are tracing and exercising caution and care," Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a press conference, according to Reuters news agency.

Last week, at least 42 people, including 27 students, were abducted from the Government Science College school in Niger State, which is in northcentral Nigeria.

"We are angered and saddened and by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria," said Peter Hawkins, a representative for the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) in Nigeria.

“This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through – one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and wellbeing . . . Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents should not need to worry for the safety of their children when they send them off to school in the morning.”

Two months ago, hundreds of boys were abducted from a school in in Kankara, in the northern Katsina state, where Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari comes from. While the kidnapping was claimed by Islamic militant group Boko Haram, experts say their involvement is not certain. The boys were later released after ransoms were reportedly paid for them.

Nigerian school kidnappings started getting global attention in 2014, after 276 girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, northern Nigeria, by Boko Haram.

At the time, Boko Haram controlled an area of territory roughly the size of Belgium, and had already abducted thousands of women, boys and girls from across the region. The online campaign to have the so-called Chibok girls rescued gained momentum, and its hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was shared by everyone from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian.

More than 100 of the students were later released, but dozens still remain with their captors, and at least 40 have died, according to recent reports.

In 2018, more than 100 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the town of Dapchi, in Nigeria's northeast. At least five died of them died, possibly in a stampede, but the others were all released except for one girl, Leah Sharibu. Her parents later said Mr Sharibu had refused to renounce Christianity, despite pressure from her captors.

“The implication to these widespread abductions [is that] more parents will have to withdraw their kids from schools as the state can no longer prevent these kidnappings by rampaging terrorists from happening. This is really sad for Nigeria,” tweeted Nigerian journalist Mercy Bang.